Saturday, June 15, 2013

Wherein I get to tag along to Mystic Seaport Museum

Mystic, Connecticut April 5 & 6, 2013

( Borrowed from my post on Emerald Marine's Blog)

Mystic's famous collection of numerous small craft was just one part of the draw for Andy Stewart and James McMullen of Emerald Marine Carpentry. The vessels and holds of historical maritime treasures brought their present day occupation and hobbies to light in a very large, tangible and meaningful way.  Happily, I was privileged to go along to experience what I think may be the best-ever living museum. Likely not out of order, I'll speak for all of us, very high expectations were not let down.
Imagine hardcore boat geeks among stacks of the very boats sailed, designed, belonging to and built by the likes of John Gardner, N.G. Hereshoff, John Alden, Pete Culler and countless others.  This much alone rendered James McMullen gobsmacked.  By the end of the day, a distant gaze of wonderment made us glad that the train would be carrying him safely back to The City.

We left New York City at 7:00 am which would be 4:00 for those of us just fresh from the West Coast.  With bagels and lox from Zabars, and a bit of coffee and we  headed NE on Interstate 95.  It was mostly a straight shot and James was a great navigational partner especially through a tricky interchange or two near the Bronx.  We passed a few places of note through Connecticut. One of the most memorable was the Pez Factory!  After about 3 hours, we hit downtown Mystic, stopped at Bartleby's for coffee,  James took the back-seat for the final jaunt to our destination.  On arrival, I took few seconds too many, getting my stuff gathered to get out of the car.  Andy could almost see the pressure and anticipation building up behind me, one second longer and he might have burst.  James' relief was palpable, and while he didn't run to the entrance, he was like a kid at the gates of Disneyland.

Maritime art and craft met us around every corner.
The legacy of shipbuilding and all its supporting industries clearly illustrate an interconnected web: the ship builders, rope makers, merchants, barrel coopers, carvers and artists, just to name a few.  Whale oil,  prized for it's clean and bright glowing light and essential lubrication, allowed the Industrial Revolution to slide into the next era.  Seeing living history in action brought some of our country's past into a clearer focus.   One of the best displays was a historical model of Mystic in miniature with 4 narration programs, describing the  area and activities of the town in the peak of shipbuilding.

A visual inspection of a display whaling boat from afar.
At Mystic's living museum, the days of United States maritime successes are brought to life and offered as perspective into our greater influences on world wide commerce.  Literally greasing the wheels, whale oil commerce propelled the Industrial Revolution, and while waning, prescient merchants and ship builders saw the end of the era and made rapid transitions into textiles and manufacturing.  As destructive as this particular whaling was to the world's sperm whale population, its impact on who we are today is undeniable.

Perhaps most memorable and appreciated was the welcoming nature of the staff and other people working at the Museum.  We were treated with the upmost hospitality.  I don't think about our visit without wishing I could plan our next trip soon.  Our special tour of the collection with Walter Ansel was the highlight.
 John Gardner's 'General Lafayette' as referred to in our story about building the Island Star
Detail of the bead around the deck

One of many sailing canoes we admired
In the small boat collection, there were numerous designs in all manner of states of repair, showcase, preserved or in a state of stasis.  We enjoyed a variety of canoes, peapods, dories, whitehauls, sailing skiffs, launches, and Adirondack guide boats.  Mind you these stacks were in rows and rows, like the archives of an ancient library. 
The massive hull of the Charles W. Morgan.
Andy and James enjoyed a Shipwrights tour of the Vessel by Walter, lead shipwright.  Although, not built in Mystic, this last remaining wooden whale ship is getting a full restoration.  A mid summer 2013 launch is expected.  In 2014 she will do a port to port tour of New England.  You can be sure that we will be watching for Youtube videos of this exciting splash.
Patterning Planks

An enviable ship saw!
The largest steambox I've ever seen!  
James and Andy both got a bit misty eyed over this beauty.  Andy had just been reading a book of L. Francis Hereshoff essays. One of which describes a rather exciting adventure delivering this vessel home from New York city to Portsmouth.  The hull color is legend and very alluring.

N.G. ( Captain Nat) Hereshoff's favorite boat

How lucky for school kids in the area to have Mystic Seaport on their field trip schedule. One of the most heartening things we heard was of a very generous donor who contributed a large sum of money to help cover the cost of bringing students to the museum. The Square Rigger, Joseph Conrad, hosts sleep-aboard camps where students experience the routine of a sailor.
The Joseph Conrad
On board the L.A. Dunton, Fishing Schooner

Whale Boat Detail
Whale boat and the L.A. Dunton
All of us who enjoy and care for wooden boats have a favorite sensory enjoyment.  I would have to say my own is the smell of pine tar.  Over our two day visit, my nose occasionally picked up a hint of the earthy pungency.  We found one place where pine tar seemed to be actively in use. The rope walk display was being used to parcel and serve the running rigging for the Charles W. Morgan.

The rope walk: A source of pine tar's earthy scent drifting through the air
Beside having another day to poke around and explore the museum, Andy and I were pleased to have  time to explore that area south of Mystic, Noanck, and Bluff Point State Park. We topped it all off with date night dinner at a cozy Italian Restaurant Anthony J's Bistro.
Thank you Mystic!  We'll be back.

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